Brazil plans to enrich its own uranium

Use for weapons denied

foreign scrutiny limited

December 28, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BRASILIA, Brazil - Brazil has announced that by the middle of next year it expects to join the select group of nations producing enriched uranium and that within a decade it intends to export the product. But it is balking at giving international inspectors unimpeded access to the plant that will produce the nuclear fuel.

Officials here describe the uranium enrichment effort as entirely peaceful in purpose, aimed at providing fuel far short of weapons grade for the country's nuclear power plants.

These officials, however, also maintain that as a peaceful nation, Brazil should not be subject to the same regimen of unannounced spot inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran and Libya have recently accepted.

"All we've got are a couple of itty-bitty reactors," Roberto Amaral, minister of science and technology in the left-wing government that took office in January last year, said in an interview this month. "It is necessary to be worried about what goes on out there, not here."

The issue has come to a boil because work has concluded on a uranium enrichment plant that officials say will be ready to begin production by May.

Mark Gwozdecky, a spokesman for the International Atomic Energy Agency, said, "We are working and have been working for some time with the government and authorities in Brazil to develop an appropriate verification regime for this new facility." The agency otherwise declined to comment.

After years of resistance, Brazil adhered to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1997 and has permitted limited visits to its nuclear facilities. But it has refused to approve an additional protocol that authorizes spot inspections. Diplomats say the international agency sent a letter this month asking for a clear, prompt and definitive response.

During Brazil's military dictatorship, from 1964 to 1985, the government clandestinely pursued a nuclear weapons program. In 1981, Brazil and Iraq signed a nuclear cooperation agreement that, according to an IAEA report issued last year, led to 26.7 tons of uranium dioxide being shipped to Baghdad.

In 1989, the former head of Brazil's nuclear weapons program worked in Iraq until the United States objected.

With the return of democratic civilian rule, Brazil and its historic rival Argentina jointly renounced the manufacture of nuclear weapons and set up a mutual inspection system.

But Brazil's program continued secretly. When a new government came to power in 1990, it found and destroyed a 1,050-foot-deep shaft built by the air force in the Amazon region that scientists said appeared to be a nuclear test site.

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